About Our Church
In the image of Jesus the cornerstone, St. Mary of the Visitation Church was formed with the living stones of Catholic Faith in North Alabama. Building on our historic past, yet set amid space age technology, we continue to be pioneers of faith by reaching out and ministering to the needs of others in the spirit of Mary and Elizabeth of the Visitation scriptural account.
We believe God calls us into a life of faith, hope, and charity. We accept this call to life through our baptism and are graced to form a community to hear and witness the Good News, to celebrate our faith through prayer and sacrament, to sustain this community through friendship and service, and to encourage lifelong spiritual growth through Christian formation. Sharing our material and spiritual blessings with all who need to hear God's invitation of love, we embrace the gospel charge to make disciples and strive to be more Christ-like. To live a life of love and justice, we commit our gifts of time, talent, and treasure. We, the people of St. Mary of the Visitation, strive to fulfill this mission through the guidance and grace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
St. Mary of the Visitation Parish has a long heritage of faithfulness and generous service both within our parish and extending to the local community. Named in honor of Mary's visit to Elizabeth as described in Luke's Gospel, our parish was established in July of 1861 by Fr. Jeremiah Trecy. The church cornerstone was laid in October of that year; however construction was suspended during the Civil War. True to their faith, Fr. Trecy and his parishioners ministered to soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Following the war, construction resumed and the building was essentially finished by 1872, with the formal dedication by Bishop John Quinlan of Mobile on November 11, 1877. In 1981 our church was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Fr. Jeremiah Trecy
Early History of Visitation Parish
Huntsville, site of the convention that drew up the first constitutions of Alabama in 1819, has a long Catholic history and a succession of thirty-three pastors in the oldest parish, St. Mary of the Visitation, that stretches from 1860 to the present date. In 1820, the population of Alabama was 127,901; the population of Madison County was more than 5,000. There were estimated to be 200 Catholics in North Alabama. In 1824, Father Robert Abel of Bardstown, Kentucky came to North Alabama and visited Catholic families. Bishop John England of Charleston, South Carolina was petitioned for a priest to work in the Huntsville area. In 1830, Father Mathias Loras, Vicar General of the diocese of Mobile (a French priest who spoke no English) and Father Gabreil Chalon toured North Alabama and visited Huntsville Catholics in their home and preached to the public in the town hall.
Huntsville is listed in the Catholic Directory by Sadlier as one of the missions of North Alabama being attended by priests from the Nashville Diocese from 1845 to 1851.
On October 10, 1860, Father Jeremiah F. Trecy came to serve in the Diocese of Mobile. Father Trecy, born in Ireland, had been ordained a priest in Dubuque, Iowa in 1851. He served outpost in Iowa, gathering congregations and building churches. He requested a transfer in 1860 to the South because of health problems. He assisted Bishop John Quinlan and was sent to establish a parish in Huntsville. The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1861. An article in the Huntsville Advocate, September 13, 1872, gives a public notice as drawn by J. J. Donegan, May 1861, requesting the community's support in raising funds to build a Catholic church. Since there were such a few Catholics, a list of supporters and their contributions followed. The oral history says that the original parish consisted of eleven Catholic families who worked very hard to the build the church.
The church was built of native stone from nearby Monte Sano Mountain hauled by mule cart and wagon. The Civil War halted work on the church. Father Trecy and parishioners were very involved in preparing hospital facilities and tending the wounded of both sides during the conflict. Father Trecy later served as chaplain to General Rosecrans until 1868 and was present on the battlefields of Iuka, Corinth and Stone River.
Father Anthony Carius was appointed temporary pastor in 1865; he was replaced in 1866 by Father Edward P. Lonigan. Father Trecy upon his return from the war obtained permission from Bishop Quinlan to solicit funds to complete the church. He went to Maryland and Michigan and other states asking for donations, leaving Father John B. Baasen in charge of the parish. Father Baasen (later the first domestic prelate in the Diocese of Mobile) had the roof installed on the native stone building.
Except for the fresco the church was completed before 1872. It was dedicated on November 11, 1877, by Bishop Quinlan.